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The Tampa presents no option but to be the caring neighbour

Posted on: September 3, 2001 10:34 AM
Related Categories: Australia

Statement by the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne
the Most Revd Peter Watson

31 August 2001

One thing is clear to all Australians, whatever view they adopt towards the people on board the "Tampa": they are at our door.

Christianity is absolutely clear about our responsibilities towards other people, especially when they are in desperate need. Coming to the aid of those in jeopardy, as in The Good Samaritan, and offering hospitality to the alien - "I was a stranger and you invited me in" - are fundamental moral imperatives. Christians have no option but to act as "Good Samaritans" and to be the caring neighbour when human need presents itself.

I call on the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to set aside political considerations to accept onto our shores the 460 asylum seekers on board the Tampa, and to process their application for asylum in the usual way.

Of course Australia must protect its borders from those who seek to enter Australia illegally, but those who are seeking to enter as refugees must be treated in a humane manner. I understand that under both the Law of the Sea and the UN Convention on Refugees, Australia has an international obligation to provide sustenance and to rescue the asylum-seekers on board the ship.

With more than 22 million people in the world identified as "people of concern" by the United Nations, including 12 million refugees and seven million internally displaced people, Australia must be prepared to play its part in alleviating this obvious human misery. However they got to this situation is beside the point. They are desperate people escaping from abuse of human rights.

We are not being flooded by refugees. Other nations elsewhere may be. We are not.

Australia's reputation as a country of humanitarian leadership has been endangered by the Government's actions. It is not too late to act with compassion and moral integrity. Contrary to the current political wisdom, it is not a sign of weakness to change direction, but a mark of moral strength and wisdom in the light of further thought.